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Michael Vick is set to star in a new reality show. History shows this may not be a wise choice.
But he may soon be dodging a lot more than linebackers: if recent history is any guide, reality TV show stints often are trailed by trouble – tarnished reputations, damaged lives and worse.
Before making eight with Kate, Jon Gosselin was an ordinary schlub. One reality show later, he's a national joke whose marriage, finances and show are in tatters, due in large part to his own admittedly childish behavior. Not exactly a great example for his children.
MTV’s Tia Tequila, meanwhile, is in danger of becoming the Marilyn Monroe of the reality genre, tweeting a suicide threat this week (she subsequently explained her cry for help in a blog post titled, "Suicide Is Not the Answer").
Many reality stars end up in the gossip pages – we know more than we ever wanted to about real housewives from a variety of cities. Others make the police blotter: In August, “Megan Wants a Millionaire” contestant Ryan Alexander Jenkins killed his ex-wife, Jasmine Fiore, and later hanged himself.
A murder-suicide, of course, is an extreme case. But we shouldn’t be surprised about misbehavior by manufactured celebrities whose only talent often is a penchant for outrageousness.
The off-camera antics of reality "stars" can overshadow their TV shows, but the producers don't seem to care much. The shows are relatively cheap to pump out, and publicity generated by notoriety can keep a weak program going after the novelty of the concept wears off.
The shows' distortion of life affects the on-camera players’ real lives in ways they can't predict or control. Thanks to editing and contrived situations, the subjects don’t always come off as they had hoped.
Vick contends he simply wants to people to “really get to know me as an individual.” But he might as well be hurling a Hail Mary pass. These shows generally thrive on conflict – not the best setting for a reviled animal abuser determined to redeem himself.
Plans for the Vick show, not surprisingly, are infuriating some critics ("People who abuse animals don't deserve to be rewarded," PETA spokesman Dan Shannon told The Los Angeles Times).
But the critics may not be Vick’s worst enemy here. He would be wise to confine his comeback to the gridiron, and avoid the reality TV minefield. Otherwise Vick, whose past bad judgment landed him behind bars, might find himself in a new doghouse of his own making.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.